Last week, Iceland joined the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Forces to strengthen defence and security cooperation with the UK and other like-minded nations in Northern Europe. Iceland is the JEF’s 10th member, alongside other Nordic nations, the Netherlands, and the Baltic countries. Iceland’s ambassador in London Sturla Sigurjónsson and UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace signed a Note of Joining last April 20.
“Iceland has noticed the global shift in defence matters in the past few years, characterised by increased instability, uncertainty and tension,” the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ reply to Fréttablaðið stated. “Under such conditions, a powerful multi-national cooperation in safety and defence issues, is especially important, especially cooperating with our closest allies,” the answer further stated. A government press release states that the JEF participation will “improve oversight over status and development in defence matters in Iceland’s immediate surroundings. The cooperation could be useful for emergency response, civil protection and humanitarian aid. The cooperation isn’t expected to incur any costs save for a civilian expert who will work with the JEF in the future.”
According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence, the JEF is “a UK-led coalition of ten countries who share a commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law as well as a long history of operating together.” It focuses on the north and is intended to be an addition to NATO’s operations in the region. Unlike NATO, the JEF handles smaller, clearly defined operations. Fréttablaðið reports that the Baltic countries have shown increased interest in defence cooperation in recent years due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the JEF cooperation isn’t directed against any particular states but rather based on common defence interests of like-minded states. “Under conditions such as now in defence and security matters, the JEF is a much-appreciated addition to the cooperation already in place, based around Iceland’s participation in NATO. Iceland’s participation in the JEF will be civilian just like all other international defence cooperation.”
The UK’s Ministry of Defence stated that Iceland’s entry into the JEF reflects a “growing bilateral relationship with the UK on defence and security issues” and that the two nations shared security concerns. They noted that In 2019 the RAF patrolled over Iceland for the first time since the Second World War as part of the NATO Icelandic Air Policing mission. During World War II, Iceland was occupied by the UK and the latter half of the 20th century saw a series of skirmishes with the British Navy over fishing rights, known as the Cod Wars, during which Iceland repeatedly threaten to leave NATO.